Millions of prayers for John Paul

Monday, April 4, 2005

Finally at rest after years of crippling disease, Pope John Paul II's body lay in state Sunday, his hands clutching a rosary, his pastoral staff under his arm. Millions prayed and wept at services across the globe, as the Vatican prepared for the ritual-filled funeral and conclave that will choose a successor.

Television images gave the public its first view of the pope since his death: lying in the Vatican's frescoed Apostolic Palace, dressed in crimson vestments and a white bishop's miter, his head resting on a stack of gold pillows.

About 100,000 people turned out at St. Peter's Square for a morning Mass and thousands more -- tourists, Romans, young and old -- kept coming throughout the day, filling the broad boulevard leading to St. Peter's Basilica. They clutched rosaries and newspaper photos of the late pontiff as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder to pray for the soul of "our beloved John Paul."

"Even if we fear we've lost a point of reference, I feel like everybody in this square is united with him in a hug," said Luca Ghizzardi, a 38-year-old nurse.

'This is all so new'

In Cape Girardeau, about 70 mourners gathered at St. Mary's Cathedral on Sunday to pray for the soul of Pope John Paul II. The young people of the congregation were there to remember the only pope they'd ever known.

Shannel Buelteman was a senior at Notre Dame Regional High School in 1999 when she was chosen to see the pontiff's arrival in St. Louis.

"It was remarkable," she said. "Not too many young people get an opportunity to see such a great man. I remember seeing him coming down from the plane on the big screen, and all these students around me shouting, 'JP2, we love you.'

"It's sad that he's left our world, but I hope the next pope will realize how important it is to reach out to young Cahtolics, because we are the future of the church."

Notre Dame students Rachael and David Weidenbenner have been preparing for this moment at school. "We usually have Mass every two weeks at Notre Dame," Rachael said. "And at every Mass we'd petition for the pope to get better."

Pope John Paul's death is a first for Rachael. "My mom's gone through this twice," she said. "I never have, this is all so new. I've never known any pope besides him."

Although the siblings never met the pope, he was a strong figure in their lives. "It doesn't matter what religion you are," David said. "He was a great man and communicator."

Around the world, bells tolled and worshippers prayed in remembrance of the man who reigned for longer than all but two of his predecessors and was credited with helping bring down communism in Europe and spreading a message of peace during his frequent travels around the world.

100,000 in Warsaw

John Paul, who was 58 when the cardinals elected him the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, also left a legacy of conservatism. He opposed divorce, birth control and abortion, the ordination of women and the lifting of the celibacy requirement for priests.

The mourning stretched from the pope's native Poland, where 100,000 people filled a Warsaw square at the spot where he celebrated a landmark Mass 26 years ago, to the earthquake-devastated Indonesian island of Nias, where a priest led special prayers. In Paris, the great bell of Notre Dame sounded 84 times -- once for each year of the pontiff's life -- as a crowd of 25,000 massed outside.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined parishioners who packed St. Patrick's Cathedral for a standing-room-only Mass.

"He showed us how to live and he showed us how to die," said one parishioner, Joan McDermott. "He reached out to people of all faiths, not just Catholics and Christians."

In the Holy Land, Israelis remembered John Paul as a builder of bridges between the faiths, noting how he had embraced Holocaust survivors with kindness and maintained friendships with Jewish friends from childhood.

In Rome, officials were scrambling for a huge influx of pilgrims -- up to 2 million of them -- seeking to pay final respects to the late pontiff. Starting today, the pope's body was to lie in state at St. Peter's Basilica.

The College of Cardinals -- the red-capped "princes of the church" who now officially govern the 1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church -- was to hold its first meeting Monday, a pre-conclave gathering expected to plan and set a date for the funeral later this week at St. Peter's Square.

President Bush was expected to attend the funeral, which will draw other world leaders as well as Vatican hierarchy and ordinary faithful. The conclave must begin 15 to 20 days after the pope's death.

Karol Joseph Wojtyla died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday in his apartment of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse, the Vatican said.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's No. 2 official, gave the homily at Sunday's Mass at St. Peter's. "For a quarter-century, he brought the gospel of Christian hope to all the piazzas of the world, teaching all of us that our death is nothing but the passage toward the homeland in the sky," he said.

The written text of Sodano's homily called the late pope "John Paul the Great," a title usually designated for popes worthy of sainthood, such as Gregory the Great and Leo the Great. Sodano did not use the title when he delivered the homily, and there was no explanation. Vatican texts, however, are considered official texts even if they are not pronounced.

After the Mass ended, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who became the pope's public "voice" in the final weeks of his life, read the traditional Sunday noontime prayer, which John Paul delivered throughout his pontificate.

The crowd applauded, and some fought back tears, when Sandri announced that the late pope prepared the prayer himself before he died -- perhaps one of John Paul's last written documents.

"It's a historic event," said Ercole Ferri, a 72-year-old Roman who proudly showed off a list of the six popes he has lived through. "It's not something sad for me. I think of all that he has done."

"I think more about how hard it will be for a new one to follow in his footsteps," he added.

Once the Mass ended, cardinals, prelates, Italian government officials and diplomats gathered in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, where John Paul's body lay in state.

"Our Holy Father looks very much at peace. It was very satisfying for all of us to see him so serene," Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said after paying his respects. "His life is finished and he gave up his spirit."

At their meetings beginning today, the cardinals will read John Paul's final instructions, including his choice of burial place. Most popes in recent centuries have asked to be buried in the crypts below St. Peter's Basilica, but some have suggested the first Polish-born pope might have chosen to be laid to rest in his native country.

Staff writer Nicole Stanfield contributed to this report.

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